Mary Sue (rewrite)


(permanent link) added: 2008-06-14 09:39:38 sponsor: DieHard (last reply: 2008-06-17 18:04:19)

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"Twelve-Times-A-Day Man? You can't just start making up terrible new characters!"

Let's say you're reading through your favorite fanfiction website and one day, you decide to read some Harry Potter. New student joins the school, ho hum... wait, did Malfoy just step down after one snippy remark by her? That's not right... hey, you can't resurrect dead characters. That's against the established laws... did the Death Eaters all turn themselves in to the police after she had a talk with Voldemort? Who the hell is this character and why is the whole world bending to her will?

Congratulations, you've just met Mary Sue. Also known as Marty Stu, Gary Stu, or some other variant for the less common male versions, she is a very common but difficult to define phenomenon. Let's ignore the superficial traits (which can be found at Common Mary Sue Traits) and look at the underlying mechanics that work regardless of them.

The easiest way to describe this character type is as a black hole. Her gravity is so great, she draws all the attention and causes the characters (and, often, very reality) to bend and contort in order to accomodate her. Characters don't act natural around her, instead serving as plot enablers for her instead of regular people. She dominates every scene she is in, with most scenes without her serving only to give the characters a chance to "talk freely" about her (Where's Poochie?). Most people don't oppose her and anybody who does will either realize their fault in doing so or just prove easy to defeat.

The very laws of the universe bend to accomodate her. If there's only a one in a million chance she could succeed at something, she'll accomplish it with flying colors. If the logical outcome of the story would end in her failure, a Deus ex Machina (or just flat out Asspull) will insure her victory. Nothing is too implausible for Mary to accomplish, whether it be going from Rags to Royalty, killing a cosmic horror, or bringing about world peace.

This is fairly blatant Author Favoritism in effect, with the author using his or her effective position as God of the story to carry the character through by her slim, tender yet hard worked hands. In the rare cases when Mary fails, it will usually be a temporary setback that will either prove advantageous in the end or else just serve to hammer in the point of how special the character is. These failures can often involve just as much Deus ex Machina as her successes, setting up events that she logically shouldn't fail in.

As for Sue herself, she can vary quite widely. More often than not, she's a Flat Character that is mostly defined by her superficial (often heavily cliched) traits, but there are plenty of characters with huge amounts of honest-to-god Character Development that still fit due to the unlikeliness of the situations they find themselves persevering in and the unnatural attitude of the other characters surrounding them. The vast majority are idealized Author Avatars (usually of 14-year-old girls), existing as wish fulfillment for the author. However, the character need not be ideal or even attempt to be likable. Mostly as retaliation against the Mary Sue mold, a great many people are unintentionally still creating Mary Sues in function but not in form. These are usually referred to as Anti-Sue (similar to Anti-Hero).

Also, while it's hardly any sort of qualifier by itself, there is definitely a trend for a lot of Author Appeal to creep in to these characters in their appearance, skills, and personality. Highly fetished appearance, skills and capabilities the author wish they had, and other such things more often than not come up. Often, this is done to such a disproportionate effect that the other characters appear to be only the palest shadows next to her radiance. The more common ones, again, can be seen in Common Mary Sue Traits.

Mary Sue, more often than not, ends up as The Scrappy for everybody but the creator. People don't find sympathy in a character they can't relate to and end up bored at watching what is very obviously somebody else's fantasy being forcefully extracted like that last little bit of toothpaste. There's no drama because the conclusion is forgone, with it merely just being a matter of time and Purple Prose before it gets to it. It's like watching somebody else's family videos.

Mary Sue is a lot easier to point out in fanfiction due to the fact that The Verse is already established and the characters have been around, making it fairly easy to see when both are being bent to accomodate her. Far be it for entirely original fiction to not end up with these, however.

Mary Sue has existed for as long as there has been fiction. In fact, the character type is present in a great number of ancient mythologies, but is generally accepted due to how ancient they are. The actual term itself comes from the 1973 short story "A Trekkie's Tale", which was actually a parody of the extremely common Self-Insert Fic littering the early Star Trek fanfiction of the time. Since it was so accurate, the name caught on. It used to be limited to the Star Trek fandom and refer only to one particular brand (we shall call it Purity Sue, or "Mary Sue Classic", if you will), but with the advent of the internet, the term has migrated to all of fanfiction (and regular fiction, for that matter) and now refers to the type described in the preceding paragraphs.

The term itself has mutated significantly over time. A couple systems have popped up to classify Mary Sue characters, the most popular of which is the exclamation mark system. For example, a Perky Goth sorceress that is also a dragon might be labelled as Goth!Sorceress!Dragon!Sue. Alternatively, something might just be referred to as (insert biggest trait here)-Sue, but that doesn't allow for a whole lot of elements to be tacked on. Regardless, however, the term most often gets thrown as a catch-all insult against original characters, regardless of their actual status or importance within the story. One should keep in mind that a character with a fantastically improbable backstory, vaguely defined powers, and excessive amounts of beauty is just an unrealistic (and, most likely, unsympathetic) character. It isn't until the plot starts contorting to elevate this character to unnatural heights that she becomes a Mary Sue.

The following are the most common stock Mary Sue types based on their role in the story.

Please list examples in the appropriate article above. None on this page.

See also Common Mary Sue Traits for the superficial tropes that get involved in a lot of Mary Sue fiction, but are not immediately evocative of it. Also see Marty Stu, which looks at both this and Common Mary Sue Traits from a male perspective.
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